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UPSC Editorial Analysis

Ensuring the Integrity of India’s Competitive Examinations

GS Paper 2 - Education, Human Resource, Governance

Context

The NEET-UG examination and results controversy has highlighted the pervasive problem of paper leaks, which has plagued India for years. There have been 70 documented exam leaks in 15 states over the last seven years, raising severe concerns about the nation’s examination integrity.

The disclosures have upset the schedules of 1.7 crore applicants. The latest NEET-UG 2024 paper leak, which affected an all-India exam with over 24 lakh candidates, demonstrates the paper leak mafia’s significant impact over India’s examination system.


About NEET-UG and NTA

  • NEET (UG) is one of India’s toughest medical entrance exams. Every year, the National Testing Agency (NTA) conducts the National Eligibility and Entrance Test (NEET) for undergraduate admission (MBBS/BDS/Ayush Courses). 
  • It is the single national level undergraduate medical entrance test conducted every year for admission to medical, dentistry, AYUSH, BVSc (Bachelor of Veterinary Science), and AH (Animal Husbandry) colleges. 
  • The National Testing Agency (NTA) was founded in 2017 as a society registered under the Indian Societies Registration Act of 1860. It is an autonomous and self-sustaining testing organization that administers entrance exams for admission to higher education institutions. 
  • The NTA organizes three main undergraduate admissions exams: JEE-Main for engineering, NEET-UG for medicine, and CUET-UG for admission to a variety of other undergraduate degrees. 

NEET-UG 2024 Controversy

  • Allegations of Misconduct – The results were announced on June 4, which sparked outrage among aspirants, who raised a number of concerns, including the awarding of grace marks to over 1,500 students, an unusually high number of students receiving perfect scores, and claims of a leaked question paper. The results revealed that 67 students received a total score of 720, a higher percentage than the previous year’s results. In 2023, just two students received full marks, compared to three in 2022, two in 2021, and one in 2020. 
  • NTA’s Stance – According to the NTA, about 3 lakh more students took the 2024 exam than in 2023, and “the increase in candidates naturally led to an increase in high scorers due to a larger pool of candidates.” Also, according to the NTA official, the 2024 NEET was “comparatively easier” than previous years. After the maximum score of 720, the next highest attainable score was 716, and marks of 718 and 719 did not make sense. The NTA explained that certain candidates, including six of the top scorers, received “compensatory marks for loss of time.” 
  • SC’s Ruling – The Centre has informed the Supreme Court that it will conduct a retest for 1,563 students who received grace marks in the NEET-UG 2024. The re-exam took place on June 23. The Supreme Court has opted to continue the admissions counseling process. If any of the 1,563 applicants opts out of the retest, their previous marks, minus the grace marks, will be utilized to calculate the results. 
  • Government’s Stance – According to the Union Education Minister, the reported irregularities in the recently held National Eligibility Cum Entrance Test (NEET) were “an institutional failure of the National Testing Agency”. The Central Government established a high-level committee, led by former ISRO chairman Dr K Radhakrishnan, to investigate the National Testing Agency’s (NTA) operations and fair examination practices. 

Measures to Ensure Fair Examinations in India

  • National Examination Integrity Council (NEIC) – The government should consider establishing a National Examination Integrity Council to oversee the administration of all major examinations across the country, ensuring consistent standards and processes. The Council may undertake frequent audits to evaluate the efficacy of examination procedures and recommend areas for improvement. 
  • Transparent Recruitment and Accountability – Ensure that key posts in examination bodies are filled on merit and integrity, eliminating the possibility of corruption and collusion. Implement strong whistleblower protection systems to encourage the reporting of wrongdoing without fear of retaliation.
  • On-Demand Testing – Change to an on-demand computer-based testing format, akin to the GRE, in which students can schedule their tests at their convenience. This decreases the logistical strain of administering tests to millions of people in a single day while also lowering the chance of leakage. Create a huge pool of questions for each subject so that the system can generate unique question papers for each contestant, reducing the possibility of cheating.
  • Digital Security Measures – Use blockchain technology to produce an immutable record of examination operations, from question paper creation to result declaration. This would make any tampering clearly detectable. Use cutting-edge encryption techniques to protect question papers and candidate data from illegal access. 
  • Rigorous Enforcement – Reduce the invigilator-student ratio to guarantee better exam supervision. The Public Examination Act of 2024 should be strictly enforced, with strong consequences for malpractice, including fines, jail, and lifetime bans from participation in future tests for violators.
  • Post-Examination Processes –  Reduce the invigilator-student ratio to guarantee better exam supervision. The Public Examination Act of 2024 should be strictly enforced, with strong consequences for malpractice, including fines, jail, and lifetime bans from participation in future tests for violators.

Conclusion

We can protect the sanctity of examinations by cultivating an integrity culture at all levels, including greater surveillance, robust governance frameworks, and full stakeholder participation. This goal not only safeguards the hopes of millions of kids, but it also enhances India’s educational foundation, paving the way for a more egalitarian and merit-based society.

SOURCE – The Hindu

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